BR: Vampire Lovers, The (1970)

August 16, 2014 | By


VampireLovers_BRFilm: Good

Transfer:  Very Good

Extras: Excellent

Label: Scream Factory / Shout Factory

Region: A

Released:  April 30, 2013

Genre:  Horror / Hammer Horror

Synopsis: Hammer’s spin on le Fanu’s “Carmilla” brings girl-girl interaction in this flawed but much-loved extension of the studio’s vampire franchise.

Special Features:  2003: Audio Commentary with actress Ingrid Pitt, director Roy Ward Baker, screenwriter Tudor Gates, and Hammer historian Jonathan Sothcott / 2003:   Excerpts from Sheridan Le Fanu “Carmilla”  read by actress Ingrid Pitt (11:58) with 77 stills / 2013: interview with actress Madeline Smith (20:34) / 2013 featurette: “Femme Fantastique: Resurrecting The Vampire Lovers” (9:50) / Photo Gallery / Theatrical Trailer / Radio Spot.




Reportedly the most faithful adaptation of Sheridan le Fanu’s “Carmilla,” The Vampire Lovers is perhaps most lovingly remembered by the many young men who watched wide-eyed as not one but several women bared their boobies in this tale of a vampiress with a taste for pretty young girls.

Le Fanu’s story is a compact little novella in which the sole bloodsucker not killed by Baron von Hartog (Douglas Wilmer) during his vengeful midnight stakeout – Carmilla – returns to human form, posing as a voluptuous teen left with a noble family while her ‘mother’ can travel to a distant funeral.

Not-so-innocent Carmilla (Ingrid Pitt) seduces Spielsdorf’s pretty teen daughter Laura (Lust for a Vampire’s Pippa Steel) and mortally de-saguinates her, after which Carmilla bolts and reappears with her bogus mumsy to ensnare another family and bite another pubescent bosom.

Carmilla doth miscalculates when she sets her sights on a neighbour living too near to her last victim – the Morton clan (led by George Cole) – and when she’s recognized by Laura’s fiancee Carl (Jon Finch), she’s hunted by Hartog and General von Spielsdorf (Peter Cushing).

At the top of the seventies, Hammer Films created a pair of thrillers for their latest find, luscious Pitt, but whereas screenwriter Jeremy Paul put more care into scripting tighter threads, deeper characters, and less genre clichés in Countess Dracula (1971), with Pitt playing the blood-bathing Elizabeth Bathory, for all its reported fidelity to its prosaic source material, Tudor Gates’ adaptation of le Fanu’s tale in The Vampire Lovers is a lumpy, clumsy, and often inept production where seams of incoherence and laziness keep getting in the way of the film’s only raison d’etre: to show naked women touching each other, and (primarily) please pimply British youths.

The nudity is amusing and frank – Pitt was quite uninhibited, and Gate’s script does attempt to present Carmilla as more than an exploitive studio concoction- but Gates and director Roy Ward Baker (A Night to RememberInfernoQuatermass and the Pit) were hampered by choppy scene transitions (or condensed backstories and maybe turfed bridge material from pre-and post-production snipping), and one particular alteration from le Fanu’s novella that’s just plain dumb: rather than have Carmilla plot and act out her hungry urges of her own volition, she’s ‘controlled’ by a pale fellow on horseback who, as the Hammer historians reflect in the Blu-ray’s new featurette “Femme Fantastique,” uses the pretty Carmilla to seduce young teens for a private midnight show of giddy lesbian sex.

Baker’s cutaways to this silent / frowning / grinning master manipulator seem to have been spliced in to ease the night-to-daylight scene transitions, but these static one-shot cutaways appear to have been drawn from just a handful of takes, none of which offer any explanation of this mysterious Machiavellian monster. Is he another vampire missed by Hartog? Was he Carmilla’s father or lover? And who is the faux mumsy who appears as bait and vanishes from the film each time Carmilla is billeted by a caring yet naive wealthy family?

There’s also a lack of faith in audiences by the filmmakers (or perhaps U.S. co-producer, American International Pictures), because the gory prologue that shows Hartog staking and decapitating vampires before the credits is recapped unnecessarily about an hour later in what’s essentially running time padding.

Some of the studio backdrop sheets depicting a castle wall are wholly unconvincing, and the painted versions of the castle in daylight recall the stylized / awful matte paintings in Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964). Lighting inconsistencies also abound, making for some glaring discontinuities… and yet this blasted mess manages to recover now and then, mostly because, from Pitt’s performance, it’s obvious Carmilla would prefer to have a lifelong relationship rather than suck a victim dry and lose what could’ve been a genuine soul mate.

Carmilla is a genuinely compelling and sympathetic creature, and Pitt’s best scenes involve Carmilla longing and worrying about the inevitability of another dead lover, but while Vampire Lovers may present an ideal showcase of Pitt’s bare bodkins, her talent as an actress is more obvious in Countess Dracula. Pitt’s also ridiculously too old for her role (at 32, she’s no teenager) and her character lacks some needed background scenes (although in terms of an eerie character introduction, the opening prologue in which she emerges from her tomb under a hazy grey shroud is brilliantly conceived and choreographed).

Actress Madeline Smith, fresh from a convent school and armed with a handful of film credits under her bosom, certainly looks the part of a daft, winsome teen who’d lose attention when shiny objects are dangled within view, but her character’s so silly, one wishes little Emma would expire sooner than planned.

(In her lengthy and highly frank interview on the disc, Smith acknowledges she had a specific dim ‘look’ at that age, which made ‘the large grey matter’ between her ears come through quite well on film. She also adds a peculiar anecdote in which, when asked by the producers to somehow boost her chest prior to the looming filming date, Smith consumed large quantities of yogurt which caused her mammaries to reach proportions so robust, the filmic results makes it appear their weight might snap the actress’ bony little frame.)

Co-star Kate O’Mara (Corruption) is wonderful as Emma’s governess who’s soon put under the spell of evil Carmilla, and it’s amusing to see Jon Finch, in his feature film debut, playing an earnest hero before moving on to the brooding eponymous king in Roman Polanski’s grim Macbeth (1971), and the combustible murder suspect in Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972). Douglas Wilmer is also strong as the film’s aged yet determined vampire hunter, lending the kind of gravitas which kept the actor busy in literary classics (Antony and Cleopatra), historical epics (Khartoum), and epic myths (The Golden Voyage of Sinbad).

Shout’s Scream Factory Blu-ray ports over all the extras from MGM’s 2003 DVD (which double-billed the film with Countess Dracula), and includes the  same trailer, photo gallery, Pitt reading le Fanu’s novella with accompanying stills, and commentary track with Jonathan Sothcott moderating discussions between director Baker, writer Gates, and star Pitt.

The best bits in the largely consistent audio commentary concern actor Peter Cushing’s life after his wife’s passing following the film’s completion, with touching portraits of the man and the bouts of sadness that dominated the actor’s final years.

Writer Gates also discusses le Fanu’s short story, the lesbian subtext exploited by the filmmakers under the freedom that existed during the more permissible seventies, and a few details regarding the two follow-up films, Lust for a Vampire and Twins of Evil.

Baker and Gates also describe a lost mime scene that was deleted before the film’s release by a studio executive. No one, however, directly addresses the edits made by the Brits and AIP (the latter actually produced the film when Hammer scaled back their in-house production), but the film did become Hammer’s most successful film of the decade, raking in $1 million, and providing cash flow for another wave of productions amid Britain’s crashing film industry.

Shout’s BR contains the same 2003 restoration mounted by MGM when the company clearly maintained a funded and very active assets management division, and it’s a delight to see as many of the surviving wicked naughty bits back in the film, years after both British and U.S. censors demanded differing cuts.

The BR features a clean transfer with strong colours, but the extra detail in HD also brings out the sloppy optical work trapped in the release print with scratches, and the mismatched frames in the cuts between dissolves in the pre-credit prologue, respectively. (The HD transfer does showcase Baker’s wonderful nighttime seduction montages, though, with superimpositions, tinting, and draining colours reminiscent of silent vampire classics.)

The mono sound mix is clean, but it’s a pity there wasn’t a surviving mono music stem that could’ve been included as an isolated score track, showcasing Harry Robinson’s lush and romantic main theme.

Roy Ward Baker’s other forays into horror both Hammer and other include Scars of Dracula (1970), Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde (1971), Asylum (1972), The Vault of Horror (1973), And Now the Screaming Starts! (1973), The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974), and The Monster Club (1981).

Tudor Gates’ genre outings include The Vampire Lovers (1970), Lust for a Vampire (1971), Twins of Evil (1971), and Fright / Night Legs (1971), after which much sexploitation followed, although he also wrote Mario Bava’s sublime Danger: Diabolik (1968) and Roger Vadim’s Barbarella (1968).



© 2014 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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